Sustaining Rural Libraries
Librarians serving in Kansas' small and rural libraries face so many challenges - shrinking budgets and rising costs, increased patron demands for new services and information access, competition from bookstores and online resources, and rapid change. In many cases, continued service to patrons in our rural areas may depend on librarians' abilities to sustain their services, information access and technology. The curriculum for WebJunction's Rural Library Sustainability project focuses on principles that can help librarians frame their sustainability strategies. These principles include planning, community involvement, local solutions, advocacy and outreach (both with the local community and the library community). Kansas participated in this program in the winter of 2006. Participants in Kansas' workshops worked with sustainability principles and created action plans for their libraries aimed at sustaining their library's technology. They left the workshops to go back to their communities to refine and implement their plans.
To sustain our own work in this program, Kansas sustainability trainers developed three goals:
To meet these goals we created a strategy for regular follow up - along with three separate approaches to staying connected. First, we established a blog titled "Building a Sustainable Future" available at http://rls-ks.blogspot.com/ to introduce our participants to blogging and to provide leads to WebJunction events, resources and support for the workshop curriculum. The blog allows interaction through public comment and retains the information for future access. We also established an e-mail list for our participants hosted by our library school. The list allows us to send out meeting notices to everyone and to post blog entries to encourage our participants to visit the blog. Finally, we scheduled monthly 1 hour follow up meetings using a web based conferencing program offered by the Online Programming for All Libraries (OPAL) consortium. Based on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), this meeting space allowed us to connect with our participants from our desktops. Each month we offered a program (blogging, TechAtlas, planning, etc.) and time for sharing and discussion.
Through the workshops and the follow up sessions we were inspired by the tireless efforts our librarians make to sustain their libraries and through that their communities. Small libraries with 1 or 2 person staff members provide patron computer training on topics from using e-mail to e-mailing photos to using e-bay. One librarian partnered with the 6th grade teacher in her local school to match students with seniors for one-on-one e-mail training conducted and practiced at the library. Other librarians set aside money each month for a technology fund to cover computer replacement. Another librarian has partnered with an English instructor at a local community college to provide monthly writing classes. The students write on the library's computers and their writings are compiled by the library. Action plans from some of our other librarians included using WebJunction's courses for staff training, developing relationships with schools that offer equipment and Internet service, and creating partnerships with local computer stores and Internet providers that trade technical support and Internet access for promotional considerations. The best part is, all of our workshop resources are available on the website so that other librarians across Kansas can learn and benefit from these experiences. All of these efforts help librarians build local relationships that result in local solutions which may be the bedrock of library sustainability.
Cindi Hickey is the WebJunction Coordinator and Continuing Education Librarian for the State Library of Kansas. Prior to joining the State Library she served as the coordinator for the Institute for Continuous Education (ICE) at the School of Library and Information Management, Emporia State University, where she developed and coordinated statewide continuing education for library workers in Kansas. Cindi has also worked as a consultant for several state libraries in the development of both face to face and online continuing education for library staff and trustees.
Brenda Hough is the Technology Consultant for the Northeast Kansas Library System in Lawrence, Kansas and a doctoral student in the School of Library and Information Management at Emporia State University. Brenda's prior professional experience includes working in the US Library Program at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and as a reference librarian at the Lake Agassiz Regional Library in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. She also moderates the InFocus rural library webinar series on WebJunction and also moderates the WebJunction Emerging Technologies discussion forum.